Emerging Technologies in Supply Chain Management

The Internet has an enormous impact on how people communicate, shop, and work. This technology has also created changes in how companies conduct business in the 21st century. One of the areas of business that is likely to see tremendous change in the coming years is supply-chain management. By harnessing the power of the Internet, supply-chain management will continue to evolve in ways that will enable enterprises to change the way they manage inventory, place orders with suppliers, and communicate critical information with each other.

While some of these technologies have existed for years, or decades in the case of radio frequency identification tags, the harnessing of the Internet to these technologies offers the potential for transforming supply-chain management. Improved supply-chain management also means improved inventory control and increased profits.

In 2001, Nike missed its revenue target by a significant dollar amount. The shortfall was explained in part by a failed supply-chain automation project. “Some estimate that new technologies could strip out more than $30 billion in excess inventories” (Fonstad). The term e-business – as distinct from e-commerce – can be used to describe the adoption of the Internet to accelerate the goal of supply-chain integration (Lee) Four emerging technologies and practices in e-business will have a dramatic impact on supply-chain management.

o Virtual marketplaces

o Radio frequency identification tags (RFID)

o Synchronized planning

o Supplier performance management


MetalJunction is the virtual marketplace owned by two of India’s largest steel producers. Tata Steel and Sail Steel traded more than 5,000 tons of steel in March 2002. By March 2003, tonnage had increased to 43,000 tons per month (Mills).

What is a virtual marketplace and what are its applications to industry? Virtual marketplaces have many names such as e-markets, net market places, and electronic markets. These markets all have common characteristics.

o Reliance on the Internet

o Buyers and Sellers come together without an intermediary

o Neutrality (all buyers and sellers are treated the same)

o Information is provided about sellers and products

In its most fundamental form, a virtual market place brings together buyers and sellers through the internet. At its highest level, a virtual market place gives a purchaser and supplier the opportunity to re-engineer the sales administration process, improve forecasting and scheduling, renew its go-to-market approach, shorten its order-to-cash cycle, and enhance customer service (Steel24-7). Ideally, virtual market places are centered on a particular industry. Some prominent examples are steel, agricultural products, and automotive parts. In addition to providing information on vendors and general information about its products, a virtual market may also offer product specifications, side-by-side comparisons, technical papers, and market analysis.

Many challenges exist in setting up an e-marketplace. Primary among these are identifying the tools necessary to use the market, providing a secure environment, pricing, payment, and fulfillment. For an orderly marketplace, Internet protocols must be selected. The cost of the IT Equipment Supplies technology to access and engage in the market must not be prohibitive. Security and privacy must be adequate to ensure confidential transactions. Authentication and authorization of users from many organizations must be possible. Private communication must be assured.

Pricing policies may be set or bartered. A common example of bartering, or auctioning, is E-Bay for consumer products. Payment procedures can be predetermined or arranged between the buyer and the seller. Finally, fulfillment of orders must be insured. As in the case of traditional marketplaces, failure to deliver in a timely manner will result in firms losing market power and ultimately may lead to failure (McKnight).

A final issue of concern in virtual markets is jurisdiction and governing law. Virtual markets place its members in the global trading community. Since e-markets are a recent phenomenon, defining the legal system responsible for settling disputes is an evolving process. Current legal reasoning places jurisdiction in the locality of the market. In a virtual market, however, one must ask where the market actually exists. While the FTC has attempted to exert control over on-line transactions, a definitive ruling on the jurisdiction for international e-market places has not yet been made.


In November 2003, Wal-Mart gathered together its 120 top suppliers to announce it would require radio frequency identification tags (RFID) on shipping pallets and cases of merchandise. Wal-Mart set a deadline of January 2005 for its top 100 suppliers. The remaining suppliers will had until the start of 2006 to meet the requirement (Sliwa).

A basic RFID system has three components.

o Antenna

o Transceiver

o Transponder (tag)

The antenna activates the tag, reads, and writes data to it. When an RFID tag moves past a reader, its information is transmitted to a host computer for processing. Most common RFID systems are passive and contain their own power source, have a short transmitting range, operate at a low frequency, and have a low cost. While RFID has existed since the 1960’s recent technological changes have reduced the cost and allowed the technology to be used in more applications.


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